Article printed in the NEW ZEALAND GOLF UPDATE - September 2002 issue

"GOOD SPORTS AND GOLF" all in the same sentence!?! – By Vicki Aitken

Golf is a game where etiquette and exemplary behaviour are not only intricate to the game but are expected. Two years ago Michael Long was New Zealand's sporting hero after he called a penalty on himself in the Australian Open which relegated him to second place and cost him thousands of dollars. As a result of honesty he was accoladed as a good sport and as an example of what made golf so special. Michael Long also received player exemptions to many big golf tournaments due to the importance golfers place on such sporting behaviour.

One of the biggest attractions of golf for most players is the social aspect of the game. Not many sports allow you to tee off with a stranger and sit down for a drink with a friend at the end. Yet one of the recurring issues that I see with golfing clients of all levels is that of poor sporting behaviour, especially in the women's game. The proverbial "bitch" factor seems to raise its ugly head all too frequently. However, gentlemen this is not just particular to the women's game as exampled by the inconsiderate display by the American team at the last Ryder Cup as they jumped up and down on the green while a European player still had to putt.

I'm not suggesting that you have to be best friends with everyone who you play golf with. What I am saying is that being friendly, considerate and courteous does not hurt you or your golf and in fact it may actually help your game. How? Well if you are busy thinking about how your playing partner is annoying you then you will not be focused on the task at hand and you will not give yourself an opportunity to get into flow (that non- judging state which occurs when you are playing your best golf). Flow may occur when you have a good conversation with someone on the way round as it has given you something to focus on between shots.

Maybe you don't have a lot in common with someone or you are playing with someone who is as talkative as a mute fish. Perhaps you are a quiet person who prefers to play golf with minimal chitchat or you find that conversation can be distracting to your game, especially in match play. Well that’s fine. It’s the cases where you do not talk even once to your playing partner throughout the whole round, beyond asking them if they want the flag in or out, and then run off without joining them for a drink afterwards in the clubhouse that are a concern. Even if you've had a bad round it is no excuse, but if you want to go and practice or you genuinely need to be somewhere else apologise and explain. That goes a long way but taking off on in a huff because your game did not come up to expectation is selfish and plainly egocentric.

Maybe it is golf's individualism that makes it easy for people to think that no one else matters except themself, but winning at all costs is not what makes heroes. Is it better to win at all costs or is it better to lose gracefully? What is more satisfying: winning a match where you played your best golf or winning because you pulled a penalty on your opponent for apparently playing out of turn? Is there any satisfaction for the American Solheim Cup Team for forcing Europe's Annika Sorenstam to replay the chip that she had just sunk because it was apparently out of turn? Where is the honour in that? There is a difference between playing within the spirit of the rules and etiquette and playing to the letter.

"What about mind games?" asked an Irish club pro at one of my recent seminars. He believed that in match play he got an advantage by being friendly to everyone before the match except his opponent, who he then ignored for the whole round. He figured this behaviour disconcerts most players so it remains his policy for playing match play. To refute this I suggested that it would be better to let his opponent play their best golf so that it would in turn force him to play his best golf. He didn't think so, because the aim was to win at all costs. This young man has lost out on the game as a whole. He has lost the opportunity that sport and golf gives us all - the opportunity to better ourselves.

Rotella has been quoted as saying "Good golfers aren't worried about what anybody else thinks of them. They don't want to appear to be mentally tough. They want to be mentally tough. And they do this by playing their own game, shot by shot, at their own pace and tempo". Tiger Wood's Mum used to tell him that the best way to answer his critics was to let his clubs do the talking. What wise words……

To allow yourself to be affected by another person's poor behaviour is to let them win their "mind game", whereas to not respond to their behaviour and to concentrate on playing your own game to the best of your ability lets your clubs do the talking and is the most effective way to deal with these situations. To play mind games, to choose to "hate" a fellow player, and to be a bad sport is to undermine the traditions of the game and is ultimately going to hurt your game and your enjoyment of your golf. Enjoy your golf, enjoy your company and treat others as you wish them to treat you – because you never know what is around life's corner!